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Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind

What is the difference between leftists and cannibals? Cannibals don’t eat their friends.
~attributed to Lyndon Johnson

I am liberal to my core and like many liberals I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the escalation of totalitarian impulses on the Left. For the past six years I’ve been exploring the phenomenon and teasing out its underlying dynamics. While many writers and thinkers have been going head-to-head with extremists and confronting their ideological inconsistencies, the book I’ve found most helpful is Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Unlike other writers, Felski approaches the dynamic obliquely and her foundational point is more subtle.

How we feel is almost always the first signal we have about the nature of our surroundings. For example, all of us have had the experience of walking into restaurant with a friend; all of us engage in some form of the following when we do: We stop just inside, pause a moment, and get a feel for the place. And every one of us has, at one time or another, turned to our friend and said, “This place feels weird, let’s leave.” It is our sensate perception of what might be called the atmosphere of a place—or as Felski has it, its “mood”—that can, if attended to, reveal deeper aspects of it nature.

I suspect the discomfort many of us are experiencing with the Left begins, as it did for me, with a strong, pre-verbal aversion to the mood permeating its activism. As the writer Thomas Cook once remarked, “There are moral fault lines to whose subtle trembling we must remain alert.” Our sensitivity to that trembling alerts us but it takes time and a great deal of contemplation to unlock just why it has occurred. Felksi is someone who has taken the time.

She makes a seminal point early in the book that critique, of whatever sort, possesses a mood, an atmosphere, a specific feeling. It doesn’t belong to a specific place, however, but rather to a certain style of thought. It is that mood that, by its nature, has infected every form of critique including critical race theory and intersectionality.

With surgical precision Felski unlocks the mood’s deeper meanings, then explores how much they interpenetrate every aspect of our lives. She begins carefully, defining just what the word ‘mood’ means.

[It] refers to an overall atmosphere or climate that causes the world to come into view in a certain way. Moods are often ambient, diffuse, and hazy, part of the background rather than the foreground of thought. . . .It “sets the tone” for our engagement with the world, causing it to appear to us in a given light.

In essence, it is a perceptual lens that affects how we see everything, including literature. 

It colors the texts we read, endows them with certain qualities, places them in a given light. A certain disposition takes shape: guardedness rather than openness, aggression rather than submission, irony rather than reverence, exposure rather than tact. . . . Critique inhabits us, and we become habituated to critique.

Inevitably, then, we begin to approach the world through…

…a spirit of skeptical questioning or outright condemnation, an emphasis on its precarious position vis-a-vis overbearing and oppressive social forces, the claim to be engaged in some kind of radical intellectual and/or political work, and the assumption that whatever is not critical must therefore be uncritical. . . . These practices combine, in differing ways, an attitude of vigilance, detachment, and wariness . . .

Culturally, this mood is now widespread. Suspicious reading is applied to any and every medium as well as every form of individual expression. We’ve become “soaked,” as she says, “in an overall tonal atmosphere” that’s so pervasive we rarely notice it. To a fish, water just is.

And while that mindset is purportedly focused on revealing and surmounting social oppressions, Doris Lessing comments (in her New York Times article about political correctness entitled “Language and the Lunatic Fringe”) that there is far more to it than that. She notes that this kind of social critique does have its good side, “for it makes us re-examine attitudes, and that is always useful.” However, she goes on to warn:

The trouble is that, with all popular movements, the lunatic fringe so quickly ceases to be a fringe, the tail begins to wag the dog. For every woman or man who is quietly and sensibly using the idea to examine our assumptions, there are 20 rabble-rousers whose real motive is desire for power over others, no less rabble-rousers because they see themselves as anti-racists or feminists or whatever.

While my liberal tribe easily perceives the dangers within non-liberal political or social movements, it cannot see them within its own. It has little understanding of the drive for power over others that exists, to varying extents, within most human beings; nor does it understand that many of its members have assumed protective coloring to achieve that power. Felksi’s great contribution is illuminating the truth that our sensate perception of the mood permeating leftist activism grants us access to its underlying mental orientation—something she calls “the hermeneutics of suspicion.”

It is this orientation which underlies all contemporary critical theory and which, through concept creep, has come to permeate much of Western liberal thought. It now defines the mindset a ‘true’ liberal must adopt towards the social and political structures around us. “Radicalism of thought,” she says,

…now calls for intensive acts of deciphering, thanks to a heightened sense of the duplicity of language and the uncertain links between signs and meaning. Their aim is not just to underscore the unreliability of knowledge . . . . Rather these thinkers instantiate a new suspicion of motives—of the ubiquity of deception and self-deception.

As she continues:

The spread of poststructuralist theories [have schooled social critics] in preternatural alertness and vigilance. [Suspicion is] no longer a temporary way station on the path to a newly discovered truth, it is a permanent domicile and dwelling place for criticism . . . . This entrenching of suspicion in turn intensifies the impulse to decipher and decode. The suspicious person is sharp-eyed and hyperalert; mistrustful of appearances, fearful of being duped, she is always on the lookout for concealed threats of discredited motives. In short: more suspicion means ever more interpretation.

And the more the mindset is used, the more application it appears to have:

Knowing full well that all-powerful forces are working behind the scenes, the critic conjures up ever more paralyzing scenarios of correction and control. Like the clinically paranoid individual, she feeds off the charge of her own negativity, taking comfort in her clear-eyed refusal of hope and her stoic awareness of connections and consequences invisible to others. . . . In its exclusion of contingency and indifference to counterexample, it shades into tireless tautology, rediscovering the truth of its bleak prognoses over and over again.

Those who have absorbed the mindset now extend suspicious reading to everyone and everything anyone does: words, body language, dress, hair, music, art, even food. They actively reject the face value of communication, whether literary or social; hold nothing as innocent of power motivations, whether directly or through unconscious complicity in those power motivations.

To regard the majority of Western peoples as possessing malign motives; to base a life upon such a point of view; to approach all books, plays, art, and human interactions with this kind of suspicion is not, however, a sign of clear-eyed perception but rather, as one of my psychology professors once put it, a diseased mind. Like its more extreme cousin, paranoia, it becomes self-perpetuating: the more suspicious one is, the more vigilant one becomes; the more vigilant one is, the more evidence one finds in even the most innocent of behaviors; and the more evidence one finds, the more suspicious one becomes.

Recognizing the mood that permeates this mindset empowers those of us who struggle to create alternatives to ground what we do in an approach significantly different in its feeling, one that does not by nature, splinter community and destroy dialogue, but rather enhances them.

There is much more to Felski’s book of course. Her identification of the suspicious nature of the critical mood merely sets the foundation for further explorations, most importantly the answer to the question of why this mood, among all possible moods, taken hold as the de facto sensible choice for so many liberals?

She finds its ancient genesis in what she terms philosophical suspicion which, over time, has extended itself into academic suspicion, then, through concept creep, into literary suspicion, and finally into vernacular suspicion—that is, a pervasiveness within and among the democratic populace of the Western world. She explores vernacular suspicion in depth, initially through psychotherapy’s uncovering of the unconscious motivations behind behavior and then detective fiction’s unlocking of the concealed motivations of criminals. Towards the end of the book, Felski develops her second significant contribution: a hermeneutics that is at heart not destructive but redemptive.

Felski is, by the way, poignantly aware of the irony in exploring and finding hidden dynamics within a critical approach that focuses on the hidden motivations of others. But there is one significant difference between her approach and that of critical theory. As she makes clear, while critical theory is useful for some of the insights it uncovers, it is at its core destructive. It possesses within itself no hermeneutics of reparation or redemption, hope or love, compassion or forgiveness. It can tear apart but it cannot rebuild. It is a binary, either/or view of life which denies the complexity of the human heart. And it is a compassionate understanding of that complexity that I believe we most desperately need now.

Our creation of alternatives depends initially on our capacity to recognize the pervasive mood within leftist extremism. Secondly, we must have the courage to choose a path not rooted in suspicion. The necessity of confronting the logical fallacies within a worldview we find repugnant remains but we can also, through our behavior and words, bring a life-generative alternative to the conversation. The moral fault line of which Thomas Cook speaks, runs through the center of the human heart. And it is the feelings of our hearts that we must reclaim in order to find life-enhancing alternatives.

True liberalism does not lie in a dissociated rationalism rooted in disembodied theoretical structures which its proponents insist completely explain ourselves and our world. It is found through depth and nuance of thought, our capacity to feel, the development of our redemptive natures, in humility, in the refusal of blind devotion to any dogma—even those close to our hearts, and finally, in our capacity to love and forgive.

 

Stephen Harrod Buhner is an independent scholar and a Fellow of Schumacher College. The author of twenty-three books, for the past forty years he has explored the destructive impacts of the hermeneutics of suspicion on science, medicine, ecology, and literature while developing the theoretical underpinnings of functional alternatives. He lives in a tiny town in western New Mexico.

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96 Comments

    • Adrian says

      Chester, as Farris also explained, fascists and communists are sides of the same coin. The fascists were against communists exactly because they wanted to control they own governments not Moskow. That’s why the fuss. That’s exactly where you’re wrong. Right wingers have the exact opposite ideologies.

  1. codadmin says

    There is no corruption of the liberal mind. Liberals are open minded individuals who are not attached to their worldview.

    The moment a person becomes attached to their opinions, and knows exactly what the answer is before the question is asked, then they cease to be liberal.

    Leftists are not liberal. Leftists are fascists.

    • Traditionally, leftists are communists/socialists while rightists are fascists. Either way, neither are liberal or conservative anymore, and have instead decided in authoritarianism is the only solution, that those who oppose their views are “the problem with America” and both seem racist and sexist, with one pretending there’s no implicit bias while the other believes bias is the only explanation for differences in outcomes. They are both mentally unsound, both rooted in our way or the highway, both suffering the disease of control over others to bring out their ideological nonsense.
      Only a preference for Liberty and Equal Protection Under the Law are necessary for good governance.

      • beyondyesandno says

        It doesn’t matter whether anyone pretends there is no implicit bias. The fact is there is no proof that implicit bias can be accurately measured or that education initiatives have any kind of positive influence on outcomes. Asking if implicit bias exists is the wrong question.

      • Farris says

        The greatest fraud ever committed is that fascists are a product of the right ( the second greatest is that the GOP was segregationist)
        The only official definition of Fascism comes from Benito Mussolini, the founder of fascism, in which he outlines three principles of a fascist philosophy.
        1.”Everything in the state”. The Government is supreme and the country is all-encompasing, and all within it must conform to the ruling body, often a dictator.
        2.”Nothing outside the state”. The country must grow and the implied goal of any fascist nation is to rule the world, and have every human submit to the government.
        3.”Nothing against the state”. Any type of questioning the government is not to be tolerated. If you do not see things our way, you are wrong. If you do not agree with the government, you cannot be allowed to live and taint the minds of the rest of the good citizens.
        None of these ideals align with the organizing principals espoused by the right or conservatives of small government and free enterprise. Just because the media refers to Nazis and fascists as products of the right, does not make it so.

        • Peter from Oz says

          Farris
          You are absolutely correct. I always refer to communism and Nazism/fascism as the Coke and Pepsi of the political world. Like those two sugary drinks the communists and the fascists were competing in the same market. They were just two different kinds of socialism: the first was internatinal in flavour and based on the writings of Marx, whilst the other was nationalist and disagreed with Marx’s conclusions. Nevertheless, both were about the primacy of the State- even if Marx himself thought that somehow the state would wither away after the proles had taken power.
          I think there are two reasons why people make the mistake of putting fascists on the extreme right. Firstly, there is the legacy of the war in which the communists were on the side of the allies. Leftists in the West and their fellow travellers had to have a bogeyman with which to bash the conservatives. SO they pretended that Hitler and co were really extremist conservatives. This first reason was supported by a second more cogent argument. Many people on the right, who thought that Communism would take over and who were aggrieved with what they saw as the pusillanomous response of mainstream conservatism gravitated towards fascism. The left can tus argument that creed that attracts right-wingers must itslef be right wing. I think this is a false argument. What really happened was that some right wingers surrendered to their left-wing impulses, but wanted a kind of left-wing system in which they would not be shot but allowed to carry on as they were.

          • Chester Draws says

            It is absolute rot that fascism is a form of leftism

            We get treated to the early ideas of Mussolini and Hitler, as if the changes afterwards never happened.

            How about Franco? How was he in any way a leftist? (Given he rebelled to prevent the Left taking over, it is ridiculous).

            How about Pinochet? You’d struggle to find a jot of socialist impulse there.

            All the other fascist rulers of Europe between the wars (Hrothy, Celmins etc). They strangely all admired Hitler and despised the USSR, which makes no sense if they are all Leftists.

            I know it’s a pain that being right wing tends to get you associated with Hitler and Mussolini. But just changing then against all sense into socialists is mental.

            Common ownership of the means of production makes you a Socialist.

        • @ Farris

          I dont think that Fascism comes from the right. In fact, Julius Evola, who is considered perhaps the most right wing philosopher ever, wrote a book criticizing Fascism for not being right enough (Fascism Viewed from the Right).

          That being said, the D’Souza argument that Fascism is leftist is pretty nonsense as well. Fascism for one is not very well defined, unless of course your idea of Fascism begins and ends with Musolini. Which I think would perhaps be the best way to talk about Fascism, but not many people see it that way.

          The problem is most people view Fascism through the overton window. The window where Antifa are freedom fighters and Ann Coulter occupies the top right corner of the poltical compass.

          When we take history into account, fascism is kind of its own beast that occupies the authoritarian center.

          • Gonout Backson says

            @Chester Draws
            To begin with, you will have to prove that Franco or Pinochet were indeed “fascists” (a 20th Century ideological invention) – and not “military dictators” (nothing new about that). In a serious conversation, words should be used with care,
            Throwing around the name of Hitler doesn’t help.

          • Farris says

            Fascists and Communists have a history of feuding. Hitler and his brown shirts fought the communists in the streets of Berlin. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sided with Franco against the Republicans (see how moniker don’t equate with ideals) supported by the USSR and Mexico. During the Cold War Franco’s Spain sided with the western allies over the Soviets. But battling communists does not make one a product of the right, anymore than Sunnis battling Shia makes them Christians.
            Communists believe in all for the workers.
            Socialist believe in state ownership of means of production.
            Fascists believe the State acts as a silent partner to enterprise, or acts as the puppet master. Both communism and fascism believe in a one party state.
            None of these have anything in common with the free enterprise limited government beliefs of the right. I never said fascism necessarily should be attributed to the Left. The term “Fascism or fascist” is used so frequently it has come to mean little more than “I hate you”.

          • das monde says

            Fascism was a surrogate socialism, a right wing reaction. Socialist ideas were too popular then to squash directly, thus a sly political move. On the flip side, without Marx we would have no Fascism.

        • josh says

          Farris, you are redefining terms in a historically ignorant way. The political right is classically associated with nationalism, tribalism, traditional hierarchy and authoritarianism. The left is associated with reforms, internationalism and equality. Thus, the fascism you describe is very much in line with the right. The communists were among the most hated enemies of Italian and German fascists exactly because they were seen to undermine the traditional nationalist and religious (and racist, sexist, etc.) structure of society.

          What you seem to be interested in in more along the lines of a Statist-Anarchist axis. This doesn’t really break down neatly into left and right. Typically, rightists are against the government being used to advance leftist goals, like aiding people on the low end of social/financial hierarchy, but perfectly happy to see it used for right-wing causes like nation-based warmongering, legislating conservative moral causes, cracking down on outgroups like immigrants, etc.

          About your second greatest ‘fraud’: The modern voters of the GOP are the descendants of the southern Democrats who were against segregation. There was a huge realignment of the parties between Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. The modern Republicans are basically an alliance between the old Republican plutocrats and the newer white social conservatives who used to vote Democrat.

          • Farris says

            Sorry Josh. Present day civil rights legislation was enacted only with the help of republicans. Lincoln is still the standard bearer of the Republican Party. Klansman Robert Byrd died a Democrat. The conservatives purged the John Birchers from their ranks. I could go on. If want to say the democrats have progressed beyond their rascist past, so be it. But please don’t try to white-wash history and deter to others as ignorant.

          • Centrist Gal says

            Josh

            In order for the State to push through their ‘reforms, internationalism and equality’ it become fascistic. Simple. It’s evident throughout history, and it’s evident now. Anybody who seeks equality of outcome MUST become authoritarian; it is the inevitable result of leftist ideology. Conservatives want smaller government and more competition. The far right become fascists when they participate in “warmongering, legislating conservative moral causes, cracking down on outgroups like immigrants”. Many theocratic states today fit this description, but the left refuses to acknowledge this, having been brainwashed into the idea that the only bad people in the world are conservative, Christian Westerners. Extremists – secular or religious, left or right – are exactly the same beast, and use exactly the same methods….they all just think they stand for different and noble things.

          • @ Josh

            “The political right is classically associated with nationalism, tribalism, traditional hierarchy and authoritarianism. The left is associated with reforms, internationalism and equality.”

            Er, I think you may be trying to draw a stark difference where none exists. Plenty on the left have supported nationalism, tribalism and authoritarianism. Marx himself supported some nationalist movements and, or course, there have been plenty of authoritarian left wing regimes. Most left wing regimes have been hostle to traditional hierarchy, but not to revolutionary hierarchy.

            Likewise “reforms, internationalism and equality” is very simple terms that could be applied to Locke or Mill. Both of which are considered the right.

          • josh says

            @Farris Civil rights legislation was passed under Democrat Lyndon Johnson after proposal by Kennedy (D), it passed with members of both parties voting for and against. Another look though, shows that the vote was divided along North-South lines. That’s the cause of the realignment I spoke of and you ignored. Robert Byrd didn’t die a Klansman, he repudiated his earlier beliefs. So you are either ignorant or deliberately dishonest. And the Birchers are basically Trump’s base now.

            @Centrist Gal
            “In order for the State to push through their ‘reforms, internationalism and equality’ it become fascistic. Simple.”

            Simplistic you mean. If you’re going to call Lincoln, Roosevelt and Johnson fascists then you’ve given up on any kind of considered dialogue. Conservatives aren’t defined by wanting smaller government, that is just a talking point and one that is parochially American. You might call that a libertarian philosophy, but libertarians famously don’t fit neatly on the left or right. I agree with you that theocratic states are typically on the right, and as a person ‘on the left’ in some senses they are very much my concern. They are on the right and they are conservative and they veer into fascism. There are extremists on the left also, there are also libertarian extremists. I’m not trying to tell you one is better or worse than the others, I am trying to get people to acknowledge the proper terminology and understand the ideological differences.

            @roundedpeaks
            I am not trying to draw an impermeable boundary, I’m repeating what the terms mean. Left and right is not a complete political taxonomy and not everyone fits neatly into those categories. I wouldn’t even say they are especially useful in many cases, but they have associated meanings and those meanings don’t let you say that international Communism and German Fascism are the same thing. There have certainly been authoritarian regimes that arose from leftist movements, but that doesn’t mean that authoritarianism is diagnostic of the left.

            Locke and Mills were not on the right, they were liberals of their time, arguing for individual liberty against the traditional conservative authoritarianism of the day. Some of Mills’s ideas would be called socialist today. Locke was of course big on the theory of property, but argued for a labor theory of value and said that one must leave “enough and as good” for others when taking from the common store of nature. Trying to drag them into the present and put them squarely left or right is a fool’s errand.

        • Contessa says

          Bravo. Fascism, Marxism, Nazism are all of the left. All involve complete dominance of the individual by the state. Period. The right or conservative view in America anyway – is the LIMIT of interference by the state into the private lives of the people.

      • John says

        Nope Right are not fascists they don’t want somebody telling them what to do, redistributing their wealth and want people to take more personal responsibility.

        Ironically the far Right is more anarchist. “An” meaning without “arkhos” meaning cheif ruler.

        But yeah you’re right about the Left.

        • Brazilian says

          Far right are the ANCAPS, Fascism/Nazism and Communism are two side same coin, you can see somewhat in today Islamic world, Gaddafi in his Green Book, Iran Theocracy…They extract from both, as the anti jew rhetoric

  2. TarsTarkas says

    Eric Hoffer explained it better and much less turgidly in ‘The True Believer’.

  3. Chris Martin says

    What does this book give one that “A Conflict of Visions” does not?

  4. james lee says

    We humans have been down this road before…

    Political philosopher Ryszard Legutko on the marxist concept of “false
    consciousness” from his book “The Demon in Democracy”:

    “The concept vaulted to unprecedented popularity, primarily because it proved to be a most convenient tool in political conflicts: it allowed discrediting one’s opponent without entering into a substantive argument. There was no sense in analyzing the opponent’s views on their merits, such an analysis being usually inconclusive and politically inefficient. It was much better to show that his views represented his interests and were conditioned by his social and economic position. This way, under communism, much of philosophy, art, and literature could be discredited as arising from a bourgeois ideology…This practically put an end to any form of intellectual argumentation. No one argued, but either accused someone of ideological treason or defended himself against such a charge.

    No wonder that those contaminated by ideology developed a deep suspicion toward ideas. They knew that ideas were not really ideas, and the person expressing one did not really say what he said—even if he personally thought so—but that he had a hidden agenda, even if he was not personally aware of it.”

    • James Lee says

      To clarify…

      The rhetoric of suspicion we see in the West today is very similar to the rhetoric that was commonplace in nations under the spell of communist ideology. It’s just making a widespread resurgence after fomenting in the universities over the last few decades, and not enough people have woken up to that fact.

      The far left tells us that “Everything is political”, which was also a central ideological plank in communist nations. They all believe that the ideology must be inserted into every sphere of human activity and enforced religiously. Communist Party officials were placed in social organizations to monitor and ensure ideological compliance. Now in the West, we have the widespread growth of Diversity trainers and activists spreading throughout academia, corporations, and the media to “teach” and emphasize the orthodox ideology. Some members of the vanguard left (for example the Swedish Green Party) have even called for official “gender monitors” to be inserted into all kindergartens to ensure gender neutral play.

      • John says

        Kinda cool observation, you say not enough people have woken up to the fact communist ideology is making a widespread resurgence, and what I’m seeing is this site has people on the “Left” that are finally waking up to it and speaking up about it.

        The ruling class that was behind this is in the midst of losing control and right now exactly right now critical mass is picking up.

        Y’all need to keep spreading the word the Left can’t just keep calling guys like me Nazi racist white supremacist bigot cause it’s not the truth it’s plain to see who the intolerant violent people are ordinary people that put a lot into this country aren’t that dumb.

        Maybe start identifying with the Libertarian party more, anyway I’m just a straight up American f Bush f Clinton f the MSM Trump ran into the Republican party like a Maverick and is in the process of very quickly taking out America’s enemies. So y’all are going to have to join us somehow in winning this war and that’s exactly what it is a Silent War with Silent Weapons. Lol fitting for the paranoia theme.

        This isn’t directed at you James Lee, and you said it well.

  5. Jenny says

    “… while critical theory is useful for some of the insights it uncovers, it is at its core destructive. It possesses within itself no hermeneutics of reparation or redemption, hope or love, compassion or forgiveness. It can tear apart but it cannot rebuild. It is a binary, either/or view of life which denies the complexity of the human heart. And it is a compassionate understanding of that complexity that I believe we most desperately need now.”

    Beautifully said. This should have been in the first paragraph.. and maybe a good thesis to start a book…

  6. Excellent piece Stephen, I think the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ is a brilliant description, and Rita’s book will shortly be added to my library. This ethos of the hard-L, which has unfortunately found it’s way into a vast amount of our linguistic terrain, media, educational institutions etc…, is a confiscation and undemocratic redefining of moral terminology in a kind of linguistic highjacking, and has deep roots that don’t just run back to Marxism, but to the French Revolution, Rousseau, and ultimately a devotion to a Platonic-Utopia archetype prevalent in the progressive personality type. I think that this is the unacknowledged cultural crisis of our times, reasonable liberals must call-out and address the inchoate seizure of the moral terrain by a fringe element that L-control of social and educational institutions has long incubated, and that they have overwhelmingly genuflected to as fellow-travelers and ‘deep-thinkers’. They are not fellow-travelers of liberalism, they are a recapitulation of Stalinist/Maoist-style control of discourse and the religious fundamentalism of The Inquisition.

    • stephen harrod buhner says

      Well put and nicely traced to its origins.

  7. Thinking is hard. Hating is easier.
    Negotiation and compromise are hard. Coercion and rigidity is easier.
    Being successful is hard. Claiming x, y or z has kept you down is easier.
    Being an individual is hard. Mob mentality and groupthink is easier.
    Compassion, charity and concern for others is hard. Demanding solutions that others provide is easier.
    Reality and nature are hard. Faith and delusions are easier.
    This sad state of human reality infects the far right and the far left.

  8. Wonderful article. I’ve leaned left on virtually every issue my whole life (I’m 34 going on 35), but only recently (right around the 2016 election season) have I started to wonder whether leftism is going too far. Viewing every piece of art through a lense of power and privilege is exhausting, and it’s why I don’t read much criticism of any kind anymore.

  9. Mark says

    Interesting article. It’s always hard to get my head around the USA’s incorrect interpretation of the word “liberal”.

    The Left are lost in critical theory and postmodernism, but most of them aren’t self-aware enough to know this. In my experience, the current Left are unmoored from themselves, the vast majority of the world, and history.

    Join us in the reasonable centre.

  10. ccscientist says

    With the falling away from religion, the shrinkage of the family, and increasing loneliness, people are searching for certainty, something to hang onto. They have latched onto critical theory and suspicion as a certain explanation that covers everything the same way Freudianism used to for a certain elite. Unfortunately, it only is useful for destruction. Anything that is not perfect can be deconstructed to be deemed bad, and thus they attack the family, Christianity, charity, beauty, the great thinkers and artists of the western tradition (just dead white males) and everything positive, because it can’t really be positive since everything in this world is contaminated. They compare imperfect capitalism with an imaginary perfect socialism and want to tear down wall street.

  11. It’s wonderful to read another intelligent work of dissent from the Left. It makes me feel less alone, and I’m so happy that others feel the same way. I just wish we could muster the courage to speak up more often, though I know the fear of the mob and being mauled has an incredible chilling effect on the desire to speak up.

    As a Leftist myself, I’ve come to realize that the brand of politics outlined by this writer and Rita Felski is in reality not Leftist at all. I do not believe that it is a “natural” extension of the social and civil rights movements of the 1960s. I encourage disillusioned Leftists to read the work of Dr. Adolph Reed (I know I’ve posted about him before) over at NonSite and maybe even just do a quick Google search for him.

    Reed’s work is pivotal for understanding that the brand of politics labelled “far Left” by some writers on Quillete and in other spaces is actually more accurately described as “the left wing of neo-liberalism.” Here’s a link to a selection of his writings for NonSite as well as an excellent interview he did with Bill Moyers in 2014:

    https://nonsite.org/author/adolph-reed

    https://billmoyers.com/segment/the-surrender-of-americas-liberals/

    It’s important to read Dr. Reed and others like Dr. Barbara Fields, Dr. Kenneth Warren, Dr. Judith Stein, and Dr. Walter Benn Michaels to understand that what is happening right now is actually undermining an egalitarian Left and is not effective at eliminating inequality. The labor movement and any analysis of economic inequality on the Left has been in retreat for decades in the United States.

    I often read the comments and see Dr. King’s “content of our character” quote thrown about. But maybe it’s time we start quoting people like A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin…who were committed to linking racial justice to wider egalitarian Leftist struggles against economic injustice.

    This is a very tense atmosphere that we are living in right now. I’m a staunch atheist, but for some reason I find myself “praying” that something happens to create a sea change that upends this truly cynical brand of politics that passes for a political Left. It pains me to see how a political paradigm that claims to be about inclusion and equity has been wielded to exclude, divide, and hurt.

    I will definitely be ordering a copy of “The Limits of Critique” after reading this.

    Thank you, Mr. Buhner.

    • Peter from Oz says

      BFF
      I think you are correct that the old left was truly interested in equality. I think they were wrong in much if not most of their ideas. But I do respect the fact that they were working on behalf of those they saw as disadvantaged. But somewhere this motive has been perverted. Caring for the disadvanatged is really just a pretence. The modern left is now about bringing down the ”oppressors” rather than lifting up the ”oppressed”. Hence, the constant need to twist any utterance or action into a thought crime. That is how puritanism develops from mere refomism into fanaticism.

      • Centrist Gal says

        @Peter from Oz

        Equality is a nonsensical and dangerous term when applied to human beings. The sooner it is ditched as the basis for ideology and policies, the better. ‘Fairness’ is a better dimension to use because unlike ‘equality’, it is not an absolute value.

      • georgopolis says

        Peter,
        I think you are correct. I believe it was Bret Weinstein (or perhaps his brother Eric) who summarized it quite well. There are those who want to put an end to oppression (whatever that can be interpreted to mean, it sounds like a moral position to hold) and those that want to turn the tables on oppression (bad actors). The latter group, being more vocal and morally bankrupt, will inevitably co-opt the support of the former, making them the so-called useful idiots. This is done through puritanical enforcement of the “party line”. A party line that is really a Motte and Bailey bait and switch. The defensible position of “oppression is bad” obscures the true motive of the bad actors who will, by any means necessary (shout out to the puritanical radicals (puradicals?) at BAMN), attempt to flip the game board and rearrange the pieces in their new hierarchy.

  12. Bill says

    I’m curious about the Left view of the 1st Amendment in light of judge Epstein’s ruling today in the Steele case with the Russian oligarchs. The judge threw out the case stating that Epstein, even though a non-US citizen residing outside the US enjoyed 1st Amendment protections because his opinion & statements were of public concern re: Kremlin “meddling” in the 2016 election. That same logic would then mean that the Kremlin agents leaking the DNC/Podesta emails also enjoyed the same protections since they were revealing information also of public concern of DNC “meddling” in the 2016 primary.

    I pose the question because of what many commentors have pointed out which is that the Left of now isn’t the traditional Left which is very pro-1st Amendment, with the new-age Left being fans of deplatforming and squelching opposing viewpoints.

    • hemocyanin says

      That the Constitution applies universally is hardly controversial — if a foreigner gets arrested for a crime in the US, the US doesn’t get to treat that person differently than other criminals. If a foreigner wishes to exercise speech, that too is protected. (At least in theory. In practice, that’s a different matter and our presidents are even allowed to execute American citizens without due process based on those secret legal memos defining who can be droned, but whatever, we have appearances to keep up — kudos to Epstein in that regard)

  13. So, how do we fix this? How do we pull the “leftists” and or “rightists” from the abyss?
    How do we progress from a culture sliding down a slope fueled by instant gratification to one of thoughtfulness? How do we help the affected recognize the damage being done by their short sightedness?
    It’s fine to recognize the problem, but what can I do to help turn this around?

    • @Guy

      In order to turn this around, there must be a critical mass that recognizes a problem in the first place. I do not believe we have that yet.

      But in terms of solutions, technology companies like Facebook and Google need to have far more accountability for how their platforms have contributed. As a society, we have to correct the ways that social media has contributed to the undermining of democracy and civil discourse – this might mean shutting them down completely (probably wishful thinking, but oh well). I highly recommend Siva Vaidhyanathan’s “Anti-Social Media” for an examination of Facebook’s contribution to this.

      • Hi BFF. Thank you for the reference, however, I recognized, long ago, the damage being done by social media. It’s use has taken instant gratification and thoughtless interaction to an entirely new level. It’s given a voice to cowardly individuals who use it to convey ideas and opinions without any concern for debate. Most of these people would never offer such ideas in person. They would have nowhere to hide if confronted by a logical argument.
        I have to say, however, that I can’t blame Google and Facebook. While we would, likely, be better off without them, it has to be the responsibility of the individual as to how they are used.
        What if the “critical mass” that you spoke of could be facilitated by the use of Google and/or Facebook?
        There are, currently, some great ideas being spread by way of Twitter and YouTube.

        • @Guy

          Facebook and other platforms are undoubtedly used by certain individuals in a malicious manner, but the problem is more deeply rooted than that. The central thesis of Vaidhyanathan’s book is that the platforms themselves have structural issues independent of
          how individual users utilize the platform.

          After reading the book, I would need to see Facebook undergo an intense, rigorous process of reform before I could invest any trust in the platform again. The issues run quite deep and are not explained away by individuals using Facebook in a malicious manner.

          I’m not blaming Google and Facebook for all of it. But Silicon Valley certainly needs to take some share of responsibility. Facebook especially has not been properly accountable for how member data has been used.

    • augustine says

      The example you set, both publicly and privately, is the most important thing you can do.

      The exchanges of ideas here and in other online venues, as well as books and social media, have to eventually foster actual socializing, in person, to have any societal effect. I think political meetings will increase as people understand the limits of cyberspace but currently they seem to be rare, even in large metro areas. Good ideas and remedies need a substrate to grow on like local and state politics. Those dominating now are the ones who have been showing up.

    • Guy I believe part of the solution, which is only temporary because for the last 6,000 years we’ve been plagued with unconscious (or conscious) desire for power and control, is to simply listen.

      Example: I wanted to talk with a (white) restaurant owner who put up a Black Lives Matter sign in his window, about how it highlights my blackness as a customer & serves to put brown folks ‘on stage’ when eating there. Instead of being willing to sit and chat, he decided to talk with his social justice group about my concerns. He then informed me that the group supports the sign so he didn’t feel a need to hear me out further. When I mentioned his group was mostly funded by elite (mostly white) donors and that he was adhering to an ideology rather that actually listening to a POC in his community, I was ignored.

      This has happened again & again in my hometown of Portland, OR. Instead of listening to minorities who may not follow social justice/political correctness in leftist terms, they are admonished as traitors, uncle Tom’s, and puppets of the right. When I spoke with a group of (all white) protesters outside a conservative conference I went to (to see for myself if the conference was full of bigots – which it wasn’t) a female protester literally interrupted me & wouldn’t allow me, the apparent downtrodden minority worthy of honor, to finish speaking. After she was done calling me a pawn and idiot she stomped off. So much for justice.

      When we listen, even when we disagree, lots of cool things happen. For instance we have friends we’re politically opposite of in areas, yet we discuss these topics in the spirit of curiosity and learning. Often we educate each other on nuances missed and even find parts of their arguments helpful or noteworthy. Even more interesting is when we see the “strange bedfellows” aspects to points that are meaningful. Who knew a staunch animal rights vegan liberal would find something to collaborate on with a pro-life post punk conservative on the issue of genetic modification. Listening changes a relationship from adversarial to delightful if only we are brave enough to examine our biases and talk a little less.

      And with that I’ll be quiet now. Thanks for reading.

  14. flyfishingnow says

    This is painting “leftists” with a very broad brush indeed. It doesn’t seem to take on their particular statements of fact (e.g. “wealth inequality is caused by overconcentration of economic power in the corporate world”) or even their categorical truth claims (e.g. “members of historically marginalized communities cannot be guilty of racism toward members of historically oppressor communities”), all of which statements are either true, false, or unfalsifiable (and very definition-dependent).. Rather, it characterizes the left as having a suspicious or paranoid “tone” or “mood.”
    It would be ironic- though not particularly surprising- if the “Paranoid Style” that Richard Hofstadter identified in Right politics in the 1960’s had “flipped” (or more likely metastasized) to the Left in the 2010’s. Maybe this is not the sense of “suspicion” that Felski and Buhner have in mind. But some concrete examples of ‘paranoid’ behavior on the Left would have been nice, since it’s likely this is a condition that affects some, but not all, leftists.

  15. flyfishingnow says

    Actually, on further review, I’d have to add a fourth category to my “true, false, or unfalsifiable” statements- howling at the moon. The “STFU!” emanating from both Left and Right is frequently of that order.

  16. Critical theory has a lot to say about language and aesthetics because these are imprecise mediums of expression and perfectly suited to their imprecise and fuzzy logic. One could argue that the secret sauce of western civilization is less embodied in treatise than it is in scientific discoveries grounded in mathematics and number, not language. Of course, a few of these critical theorists have indeed figured out that their ‘critique’ is ultimately incapable of being an agent of fundamental transformation unless they can make the argument that algebraic equations were invented by the white demon to oppress the more pigmented sapiens. In other words, you can expect a flood of ‘academic’ literature in the coming years suggesting an expression like 1+1=2 is really just a thinly veiled attempt to preserve the exploitative hierarchies and power relations that serve the interests of the white demon. You can quote me on that.

  17. On the up side, there is no need to be concerned any inroads will be made in postmodernizing mathematics. Trying to get these fuzzy logic types to understand a basic precept of number theory is like throwing holy water on a Satan worshipper; or, if you will, watching the sun rise with a vampire — I could go on, but you get the point.

  18. ga gamba says

    I’m happy to see Doris Lessing quoted because she was one of the most remarkable people from the mid 20th to her death a few years ago. Leaving school when she was 14, “totally untrained for anything,” she spent the rest of her life pursuing self-education by reading. She’s the author of more than five dozen books; her first books were anti-racist and anti-colonialist written whilst she lived in 1940s Rhodesia and published in 1950. Her 1962 The Golden Diary is considered one of feminism’s most import novels. And she didn’t like that much at all, even when her book was called “the feminist bible” and she could have rested on her laurels.

    In a 1982 NYT interview: The idea that she has abandoned feminist concerns particularly irks her, since she never wrote from a consciously feminist point of view but was adopted by feminists in search of a heroine: ”What the feminists want of me is something they haven’t examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, ‘Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.’ Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I’ve come with great regret to this conclusion.”

    Of Communism: “When I was in my real Communist phase, I and the people around me really believed – but, of course, this makes us certifiable – that something like 10 years after World War II, the world would be Communist and perfect.” […] ”I was once an idealistic and utopian Communist,” she said, ”and no, I am not proud of it. The real politicos are a very different animal, and I’m angry that I didn’t notice that very evident fact.

    She added in 2001:‘I was married to a 100 per cent communist and, believe me, that cured you fast!’ She expanded on that in another 2001 interview: The communists… little mini commissars… they were everywhere. And they were all like that – they were unbelievable dogmatic.

    On the Peace Movement, which was very influential in a panicked-by-Reagan Western Europe: ‘Look,” she says, ”I’m entirely in favor of trying to get everyone to disarm. But in case we fail, we have to have proper civil defense. I would like to see the peace movement divorce disarmament from the question of civil defense.”

    The anti-civil-defense stand of the peace movement exasperates her: ”They don’t consider that the war could be a conventional one, in which case it would be worth protecting ourselves. Or it could be a regional nuclear war somewhere else, in which case we’d be subject to fallout and need protection from it, or a terrorist bomb exploded even by mistake, or a nuclear accident. You can’t even raise these possibilities with the peace movement. Clouds of rhetoric, all words, words, words, and no cool consideration of the facts.

    ”They say: ‘But, Mrs. Lessing, don’t tell us you’d want to be alive the morning after the bomb dropped.’ It’s an unthought-out bit of rhetoric. Or, ‘Mrs. Lessing, have you thought how you’re going to feel when you’re standing at the door of your shelter and having to shoot anyone who wants to come in?’ We haven’t even got any shelters, and they’re worrying about having to shoot someone if you did have one. […]

    ”I’ve met the peace-movement people all over Europe this year, and I can’t begin to describe how frightening it is to meet literally droves of people who, as far as I can see, are equipped with a death wish because they don’t want to look at the evidence. Well, the difference between the peace movement and myself, as far as I can make out, is that I did look at the evidence. They just refuse to do so, and if you disagree with them, they say you are a fascist or a C.I.A. agent and that’s the end of it.

    Her thoughts of being called a fascist (in 1982): … she shakes her head in disgust: ”This word ‘fascist’ is one of the great words at the moment that stops everyone from thinking. You have only to say that so-and-so’s a fascist and that’s the end of any reason; you can’t think after that. I wish there could be a ban put on the use of the word. It’s an extraordinary psychological thing that if you say there is a possibility of war, the reaction is to lynch you.’

    Asked in 2001 about her declining an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) award in 1977: A dame of the British Empire, right. I am a good colonial by upbringing… I hated all that.. and also I spent a good part of my youth trying to undo the British Empire. And there are very few more unimpressive sights than some old person licking the hand that it used to bite.

    And of the then two post-War generations: ”Look,” she says, ”we live in a world of incredible suffering. This brief paradise in the West since the end of the last war, which is about to end, has educated two generations into thinking we live in some sort of Shangri-La. As usual we – that is, the human race – are in for a hard time. But that is our history. When have we not had a hard time?”

    • @ga gamba

      These are some really great passages from Ms. Lessing. She was absolutely right about the way the word “fascist” basically shuts down thought. Dr. John McWhorter made a similar argument about the word “racist” and how that accusation has basically become the equivalent of labeling someone a pedophile.

      • “Fascist” shuts down all thought because we have been subject to 60+ years of communist agitprop to make us believe that fascism is the worst sin of all humanity.

        There is a reason antifa exists and there isnt an anticom equivilant beating the dog shit out of communist professors.

  19. Peter from Oz says

    I think there is a way of combatting the evils of PC. It involves turning one of their own weapon s against them. One of the great lies spread by the new left is that words equal violence. Thus if I say that I think that gender is determined by sex, I will be told that I have ”denied the right of a transgender person to existence” and have thus engaged in violence. This justifies them committing actual violence in response. This is absolute rubbish, of course, but there is a scintilla of truth in the idea that words are not always just words.
    Free speech is absolute or it is not free speech.. But speech that is also behaviour can be regulated because the intention of the speaker is to cause harm to others. Hence, we have laws against defamation and incitement to violence.
    Speech employed with the purpose of silencing others who are merely expressing an opinion or with the purpose of causing someone economic or social detriment for expressing an ”incorrect” opinion, is not mere speech. It is also behaviour designed to hurt others. it is therefore wrong and should be subject to severe condemnation. Maybe I can illustrate how this work by reference to an experience I had the other day.
    A feminist the other day told me that she was offended by something I had said. Normally I would either explain that what I said was not really misogyinist or apologise whilst truthfully pointing out that I had made the offending utterance without intending to offend. But there was something of the odious, foolish zealot about this woman. She needed taking down a peg or two. Thus I responded that I was offended at her taking offence when none was intended and that obviolsy she was a nasty puritan. She looked shocked and stood aghast for a few moments before stammering out an apology and hastily changing the subject.
    It occured to me then that what we need to do to fight the PC menace is never to appologise or debate these buggers on their own ground. We should just turn their aggression back at them and label them for the evil puritans that they are.

    • If turning their own weapons against them worked then Sarah Jeong would not be employed.

      There is no referee here. They will always be right and those who disagree will always be wrong.

    • X. Citoyen says

      You’re right not to back down. The only–only–power activists have is what they get from otherwise sensible people caving in to their demands. To me, this is the real story in all this: the cowardice and lack of confidence in the leaders of our institutions. No one gets fired by activists; they get fired by people bowing to their hysterical demands. It will end when the first person has the stones to refuse to prostrate himself before the mob.

  20. Gregory Bogosian says

    Don’t think that this problem is restricted to the left. The right does this two with climate change denying conspiracy theories and stuff about the deep state. The hermeneutics of suspicion are destructive. But the right seems to be better at them than the left, because they are less inclined to trust the institutions that make opinions and culture, media and academia, in the first place. The far left originated finding hidden agendas in seemingly innocuous things. But the far-right perfected it.

    • Centrist Gal says

      The fact that you would use the term ‘climate change denying’ shows your own suspicions and attachment to irrational dogma. The term is a deliberately political/religious term designed to smear those who challenge the AGW theory. Nobody denies that the climate changes; in fact, that is the main problem with the AGW theory – the climate is constantly changing and always has. The term ‘denier’ supports the claim that there is indeed a conspiracy theory to obscure the truth, otherwise it wouldn’t be necessary! Science is meant to be skeptical; theories are meant to be subject to scrutiny, challenge and refutation. To twist skepticism into denialism is anti-science.

      You should be suspicious of any movement that attempts to quash scientific dissent. You should be suspicious of any movement that claims consensus about something that hasn’t yet happened. The comparison is always made between anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, and ‘deniers’. But people miss the HUGE difference; AGW is based on a prediction, a forecast into the future abut an incredibly complex system, and there is NO precedent on which to base those predictions. Why should there be consensus? It’s nonsense! Historical data in fact invalidates the claim that CO2 is a significant driver of temperature. The level of ignorance surrounding this issue is staggering. People have been fooled into believing that they are incapable of understanding the science, therefore they must trust institutions. Yet lay people can quickly grasp the logical flaws in the theory. The predictions have failed; observations (reality) do not support them, which means the theory has been falsified. Empirical evidence, real world observations, are not political. But CAGW was always about politics and there are many public statements about the real agenda by key players. You should do some research; the institutional corruption is all documented. There are many resources at your disposal if you care to investigate the other side of the story.

      https://co2islife.wordpress.com/

      https://climatism.blog/

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/01/17/who-unleashed-climatism/

      • Farris says

        @ Centrist Gal
        Well said. Your question:
        “Why should there be a consensus?” Is right on point.
        And as I sure you know Science is not about consensus.
        In 1931 a hundred Nazi scientists and philosophers contributed to a volume denouncing Einstein and his theories.
        To which Einstein replied, “If I were wrong wouldn’t they have only needed one?”

        • Centrist Gal says

          Farris
          The trouble is there is a poor understanding of the scientific method among the general public, who simply defer to the media and authority figures. Let’s face it; the public has had saturation indoctrination about this issue for 30 years, and it continues today, starting with very young children in school, so no wonder people are suspicious of ‘deniers’. It’s a religion; it’s not science. Pure logic and reason is all you need to understand how hypotheses must be framed, and the principle of falsification; the ‘black swan’ that Einstein is referring to. If high school students were asked to look at the geological record of the CO2/temperature relationship they would quickly understand the entire basis of the theory is flawed. There is often no correlation, sometimes there is an inverse correlation, and where there is a positive correlation, CO2 rise FOLLOWS temperature. There is NO empirical evidence that isolates CO2 – man-made or otherwise – as the main driver of the climate. Real world observations have already refuted earlier predictions of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, which were supposed to have happened by now. Such predictions have been made for over a century, long before the AGW theory…the ice caps and glaciers have shown cyclical retreat and growth over that period of time. It’s fascinating to read old newspaper articles from a century ago with screaming headlines not dissimilar to the ones we see today. People should wonder why China would be pouring so much money into building low lying sea-based military stations? And building so many new ski resorts? And why some of the loudest doomsayers have huge investments in coastal properties, carbon trading and renewables? One can easily check the data on the current state of the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland to reveal they are still there, and ice is currently increasing. One can easily find scientific data on fires, hurricanes and droughts to see that their frequency has DROPPED. One can easily find the scientific data on sea level rise to see that some of the most vulnerable places, like the Maldives and Bangladesh, that we were told would be gone by now, have experienced little, to no, SLR. The earth may indeed warm up, or it may cool down, or it may stay pretty much the same. It has done so for millennia without our interference, and changes have sometimes been sudden. Nobody can gaze into the future and make predictions with the certainty that alarmists claim. Skeptics acknowledge this; alarmists won’t. The onus is on alarmists to prove their theory, and so far their models have failed time and time again.

      • josh says

        Centrist Gal, the unfortunate fact is that you are the ignorant one here. You don’t actually understand how science works. You are in denial, a psychological state where you look for any excuse to avoid a truth it seems painful to you to acknowledge. Hence you are a denier. You believe in a conspiracy theory in which the overwhelming majority of qualified scientists have concocted a deception acting under non-sensical motivations. Scientists don’t like getting involved in political disputes, and while many lean liberal, there is no greater pride in science than to get things right. There is a consensus because the science is clear, the same way there is a consensus about vaccines, smoking, and uncountable other topics.

        The websites you cited aren’t scientific, they are propaganda outfits full of polemics and misinformation. Try http://www.realclimate.org for a site run by actual, knowledgeable scientists. Or https://tamino.wordpress.com/author/tamino/ for a legitimate statistician’s take.

        There is so much misinformation you have probably been fed that I can’t hope to address it in a brief comment. But the most basic measure of correctness is this: the world has continued to warm as predicted by scientists, the deniers have been predicting cooling or a return to normal any day now for decades, and they have been wrong.

        • Centrist Gal says

          I do understand how science works, very well in fact.. It is you who is in denial. You dismiss facts simply because they are presented by ‘deniers’. So the theory will never be able to be refuted, because, according to you, anybody who does so (in a sad bit of circular reasoning), is a denier. Whose evidence would you accept? Nobody’s, because they are deniers!

          The world has NOT warmed as predicted. The closest scenario predicted by Hansen depended on CO2 emissions being capped twenty years ago. The models have FAILED, and they continue to fail. They are simply models. The IPCC itself has said they cannot accurately predict future climate states due to the complexity of the climate. They cannot even hindcast accurately! Climate scientists don’t understand how the climate worked in the past, they don’t understand how it works now, so how can they possibly understand how it will behave in the future?

          “The deniers have been predicting cooling”.. Well, that’s funny. Some of those who started the AGW fiasco were predicting catastrophic cooling in the seventies; they were wrong. So why don’t you discount them? Why isn’t Manhattan under water as James Hansen claimed it would be by now? The Arctic was meant to be ice free in summer ten years ago, based on the ‘science’. Who are the cranks? Similar predictions were made by scientists a hundred years ago. You can read the newspaper articles yourself. Nobody is fabricating them! The poles are in good health, go and look at the raw data for yourself. In fact Greenland has had record low ice melt this year, so much so that summer feeding birds that rely on retreating snow were at risk; the snow simply never melted! https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/late-snowpack-signals-a-lost-summer-for-greenlands-shorebirds/

          There have been numerous cold records broken this year; you just never hear about them in the media.

          The seas haven’t risen as predicted. Go and look at sea level rise at a longer time scale. The temperature has not done what it was supposed to do. Global temperatures are currently dropping. Nobody disputes ‘the pause’ which occurred despite rising Co2 emissions.

          Nobody disputes the relationship between CO2 and temperature in the geological record. Can you explain why there would suddenly be a correlation, when previously there was either none, or the correlation was the other way around….CO2 rises following temperature? I can give you plenty of scientific papers that lay waste to the claims of alarmists. To get around that, alarmists simply apply their own conspiracy theory and claim that thousands of scientists who dispute the theory are all in the pay of big oil! There is irrefutable evidence of data tampering. There is irrefutable evidence of the politicisation of the science. There are many statements about manufacturing ‘scare’ stories to get the public on board, and using the CAGW for achieving ‘wealth distribution’ ‘social justice’ and global governance and seeking the collapse of industrial civilisation. You choose not to read the evidence, and simply dismiss it, because you are so indoctrinated you cannot bear to discover that you have been conned. Often, honest scientists’ conclusions were changed when they were reported in IPCC documents. This is all documented: You can read the scientists’ original conclusions in their papers vs what was re-written by bureaucrats and then fed to the media. Other younger scientists have grown up within the AGW paradigm, and simply never question it, so their papers take it as an a priori fact. Others know that they will be bullied out of academia, and not receive grant money if they don’t toe the line. Scientists have been sacked for standing up to the dogma. There’s not much in it for those who do. Yet science is ALL about skepticism and challenging theories. We live in dark times when scientists are sacked for doing their job.

          You’ve conveniently side stepped my first point: how could there possibly be consensus on something that hasn’t yet occurred? The future state of an entire planet’s climate? For which there is no precedent on which to evaluate cause and effect, where historical data points to NO correlation between the variables being studied, and doesn’t indicate catastrophic events flowing from a change in CO2? Do some research. Open your mind. Science is meant to be about challenge. You also sidestep the political/social questions I raised. If Government and financiers believe in the dire predictions, why are they pouring so much money into ‘vulnerable’ developments?

  21. I don’t think I’ve ever read an article containing more instances of the verb “to feel.”

    You might try “thinking.”

  22. Bernard Hill says

    …..that was for the sisters to get the point(s) I suspect.

  23. Asdf says

    When the left was weaker it required concessions to the liberal left (mostly white) and the white working class. This was done because the left truly was outnumbered (the silent majority opposed them) so that despite strong power bases in some of societies commanding heights (academia, courts, press) they couldn’t just ram through their agenda. They tried and basically got shot down by the 70s due to failures at the ballot box.

    Since then two things were done to elect a new people to rubber stamp their desires and make sure that didn’t happen again. First, through their control of education and media an entire generation was raised to accept basically leftist assumptions and attitudes about the world. Second, unprecedented numbers of brown people were imported, knowing that their votes could reliably be bought off with government money and racial grievances. The votes of the third world immigrant are way cheaper to buy then white votes.

    The left no longer needs to allow unprincipled exceptions to its ideology to court liberals or the WWC. This has come as a surprise to some of these groups.

    The WWC responded by voting Trump. Much as they might have voted Reagen or Nixon in the past.

    Liberals have responded by whining about free speech and basically asking if they can please rejoin he left. Denial, bargaining, anger, despair. Different liberals are at different stages of recognizing the loss, but the left isn’t coming back for them. They thought leftism was about being able to bloviate intellectually, get high, and fuck their hot TA without social judegement. Turns out those things were short term bribes while they were temporarily useful to the movement. Support from millenials and brown people is a lot cheaper so they’ve been replaced by a lower “wage” voter.

    It ain’t going to get better.

  24. C Young says

    > True liberalism does not lie in a dissociated rationalism rooted in disembodied theoretical structures which its proponents insist completely explain ourselves and our world. It is found through depth and nuance of thought, our capacity to feel, the development of our redemptive natures, in humility, in the refusal of blind devotion to any dogma—even those close to our hearts, and finally, in our capacity to love and forgive.

    Emotionalism is not the solution. Its the problem.

    • Stephen Harrod Buhner says

      emotionalism and feeling are not the same thing. Believing they are is one of the great problems of reductive rationalism.

  25. Brilliant. This is why Q is needed, to share these types of investigations that non-academics wouldn’t come across but for the sharing of this article. Thanks.

  26. Graham Day. says

    Down with Racism. Homophobia. Misogyny. Misandry;
    and self appointed power tripping high
    priestesses and priests of political correctness.

  27. Itzik Basman says

    I assume that this mood of suspicion, its pervasive tonality, is a feature of our times and therefore applies to the right as well as to the left. This thread, which I skimmed, makes it seem that it only informs the left. That seems an error to me. And how much of the left, to liberals leaning left—and what about neo liberals, classic liberals—it applies to is unclear to me. Is it to the squeaky wheel of liberals? What about liberal majorities? What about libertarians? A lot of this is not clear to me at all even as I see that application to the loudest voices that get the most media attention.

    • Stephen Harrod Buhner says

      it actually does apply to the right as well, which Felski does go into in some depth. I was severely limited in the length of what I could write. The point here is that applying suspicious interpretation to everything people do is not likely to lead anyplace good that in fact we need a way of seeing that allows something more redemptive instead of simply accusatory.

  28. Gonout Backson says

    I’m surprised by the absence of one word in the article and the debate : it’s “censor”. Because what it sems to boil down to is “censor’s mentality”, of the Index librorum prohibitorum tradition, recently epitomized by communist censors. Though as a spontaneous, not institutionalized phenomenon, it seems to be quite new.

  29. An overwrought, 1770+ word commentary employing a hodgepodge of terms like “feelings, mood, ambiance, and atmosphere” as a means of establishing that some folk still don’t like to be called out on their racism, sexism, nativism, and other bigotries.

    • Bud E says

      Is this supposed to be ironic or did you just not read the article?

    • X. Citoyen says

      As if to prove the author’s point, you dismiss what he said without argument, then attribute a base motivation for saying it. Worse, to my mind, you’re a (presumably) grown man aping the slogans of sophomore activists–i.e., “called out on their racism.” Aren’t you in the least bit ashamed of yourself for acting like this?

  30. X. Citoyen says

    Good piece. You’re right that the problem is liberals’ inability to see the radicals as anything other than more passionate versions of themselves. I saw this in failure in my liberals friends as an undergraduate. I was surrounded by them–it was university, after all–but I can’t say a bad word about genuine liberals as human beings. Except, perhaps, that they were incapable of seeing the radicals for what they were–and are. And that failure has brought about our current woes. Not that any of this is new, of course, because people like Robert Conquest spent their careers trying to show liberals the evils standing in front of them.

    On a technical point, Paul Ricoeur coined the expression and the concept “hermeneutics of suspicion.” You seemed to suggest it was Felski.

    • Stephen Harrod Buhner says

      very nicely put, thank you. I do know it is Ricoeur, Felski goes into that in some depth. It was in the original draft but unfortunately I had to cut the piece extensively for it to fit the word limit I was given. Writer/editor interactions are always stressful.

  31. Oliver says

    Postmodernist practice of “deconstruction” requires reading into every text looking for signs of oppression and rejecting the author’s intent as irrelevant. Clearly, social justice warriors take it too far: a good example of that is the recent debacle involving a poem that contained “problematic” language (the author’s heartfelt apology was criticized for using the expression “eye-opening” as “ableist” language (as in, it was an eye-opening experience for him). However, I would argue that the current mood of suspicion and cynicism, while not healthy to possess, is entirely justified and reasonable in light of recent events and revelations undermining credibility of almost every institution imaginable (from the New York Times, to academia, to Catholic Church, to the US government, to the election process in the USA, to the European Union…). What other mood could one possibly end up in after following the news for the past few years? This is why the postmodernist idea of prioritizing one’s “lived experience” over narratives being fed to him/her by these institutions deeply resonates with people.

    • Stephen Harrod Buhner says

      as i noted in the article, critical reading is still useful for exactly the reasons you mention but not as the central orientation of the self. Finding a way to rebuild on a better foundation after critique has deconstructed what currently exists is absolutely necessary. The historical record (French Revolution) is quite clear what happens without any inherent mechanism for redemption, i.e. rebuilding.

  32. Glitter Afresh says

    Let me try to explain this from a perspective that I feel is actually centrist. It’s clear that 90 percent of the commenters here are either conservatives, or have somehow been out-grouped from traditionally leftist circles. It could be that it’s because of demographics — “white male” is what I suspect — there’s a phenomenon of people like B. Weinstein and J. Damore and other white males that would generally be innocuous left-liberal people who, likewise, fall into tribalism when tribalism rules the day. I think that’s what we’re mostly dealing with here — so I hope to provide a slightly different perspective.

    So, I am female — and I was, from 18-30, a socialist and leftist in the typical sense of a 90s leftist — so this was before “intersectionality” was popular — but well after deconstruction and critical theory had a foothold. To me, critical theory and exploring power were and still are extremely useful tools for investigations into the nature and structure of society and culture. As a lens, deconstructing events, cultural norms, relationships, texts and language to see who’s on top, who’s missing, who’s forgotten, etc., has taught me more than any other type of paradigm of thinking or scholarship.

    I maintain this position even though I became a left-leaning libertarian in 2004-2005 — but, for a time, I did almost lapse into the same type of reactionary thinking I see displayed here — as much of this is a reaction to the left. I dared to speak “truths” about — for instance, one of Quillette’s favorite topics: how “black people are responsible for their own poverty and crime.” But to do that, I had to forget what I considered the more introspective and creative approach, which IS the approach that the author, here, so very much disparages.

    Anyone can pull up statistics — blacks kill more blacks, more blacks are in jail — whatever suits your “I’m so daring for saying this” fantasies — but there’s so much more to the story — including competing statistics, biases in the sciences (and yes — they happen — what questions are asked, what gets funding, whose research gets published that “affirms” precedent/power), history, context and the very nature of knowledge/epistemology.

    I find the Quillette approach and this alt-center thing to be extremely limited in investigation and lacking in curiosity — and rigor in terms of critical thinking. Think about what this article is asking you to do — to stop thinking critically — to back off on critiquing for power — Jordan Peterson tells you to completely turn away from analyses that regard power — I want to explain to you — I have been attacked by the far left, I have seen activists act like a pack of animals — I watched the Evergreen students keep a college president from going to the bathroom and a woman scream at a Yale prof for not keeping her safe — I hate that shit and I am as horrified as anyone on the political right — but I draw no clear line between that behavior and ethos — and throwing out critical theory and deconstruction of power relationships.

    The author mentions implicit/explicit — it is BECAUSE they are implicit in many cases, that this critique is useful. Oppression is reinforced in secret, insidious ways that have to do with unrecognized and often unintended or sublimated narratives (hence the microaggression) that continually reinforces power dynamics. Recognizing this is what made me an intelligent person. I laugh that after all my years of scholarship, that I am sparring with people who LITERALLY, LITERALLY call themselves intellectuals who “lean left,” (lol), and hold nearly the very same opinions as the backward, uneducated, reactionary, racist, superstitious people (many of my relatives included) from whom I longed to disassociate myself when I was *nine years old* because I could tell they were as interesting and thoughtful as mashed potatoes.

    I understand, though, because I almost fell into that trap — when you’re certain — when you’ve decided — on a thesis like “black culture is the problem,” and you can cobble together a data set or data sets that corroborate a correlation — and then people who you don’t like are up in your face screaming that you’re a racist/Nazi, whatever — and you don’t *feel* explicitly like that’s the motivation for your “truth and justice” and you “just want to help” — or you see a bunch of hipster kids changing their gender and you’re literally like WTF — and a person is up in your face screaming about the female penis and that you’re a gender Nazi — I get it — you want to go to total war with that person — but don’t let the white-hot explosion of your feels get in the way of actual scholarship.

    I feel like that’s what’s happening — who in the world thinks we’d be better off for getting rid of the humanities and sociology (and lol keeping “evo psych” — that tells you one thing right there)? Who in the world would tell you to ignore power and oppression? I’m getting a Karl Rove vibe off of the IDW/Quillette — where they want me to believe them over my lying eyes. And how many of you are actually conservatives that are just hopping on this train because you’re, in some capacity, intelligent and hating on the libs at this level is far more interesting than being sucked into 4Chan or something?

    Just as you feel incredulous when the activist is up in your face — I feel incredulous that people would argue to narrow the approaches to knowledge and scholarship — that our truths can be rendered in histograms and standard deviations — we need the total picture. For instance, go read scholarly literature all day — and come back and tell me if alcohol, coffee or eggs are good for me or not.

    We need curiosity — not tribalism NOR reactionary thinking. Both are poison — and I see a lot of reaction here — the whole movement was born of reaction — and a lot of people are fearful. I agree that we should strive toward this “colorblind” society — the leftist habit of jumping on that and screeching seems fucked up to me — but “lived experience” also seems relevant — are we that far gone that we can’t hold both as questions in our heads at the same time? Can we not consider complex questions that might have complex answers? I think that this magazine and these articles are not hard-hitting necessary voices and outlets — but are just erected to push back. There’s still no conversation.

    • Oliver says

      “I think that this magazine and these articles are not hard-hitting necessary voices and outlets — but are just erected to push back. There’s still no conversation.” – you are absolutely correct. There can be no conversation in a postmodern world, only competing discourses, and it’s not particularly fun or insightful talking to someone knowing full well that they perceive your words and indeed your entire personality as culturally constructed and predetermined by whatever identity group you fit into. So, this magazine and these articles are the best thing we can hope for in our postmodern world.

    • @Glitter Afresh

      Your opening paragraph where you feel the irresistible urge to address this audience in terms of their hypothetical race and gender is proof that you are still incapable of seeing the world through anything but a critical theory lense. It’s as if you have difficulty expressing yourself without first having characterized the audience in the most superficial way possible.

      But this is exactly the problem with these postmodern intellectual fads: they are totalizing systems of thought that demand the outright rejection of all other possible standards for truth aside from their own tautological claims. It resembles a religion that demands absolute faith, not honest intellectual inquiry.

      • Oliver says

        @AA

        Thank you for pointing this out. Indeed, Glitter Afresh felt that it was reasonable to assume their audience’s prevailing race and gender with zero evidence, and that it was necessary to point out those characteristics at the very start of their argument.

        @Glitter Afresh

        I refuse to assume your gender or race, but I think that what is very reasonable to assume about you is that you belong in a group that benefits from such actions. Who stands to benefit from the divided Left and alienating rhetoric that drives centrists and independents to vote for republicans? Republicans, of course. Who stands to benefit from dividing lower class Americans with shared economic concerns along race and gender lines? The upper class, of course.

    • “Think about what this article is asking you to do — to stop thinking critically — to back off on critiquing for power”
      Ah, the most tediously dishonest rhetorical move in the “critical theory” repertoire—to conflate criticism of critical theory with objecting to critical thinking. Actually, the article and the book it references are applying critical thinking to critical theory, do try and parse the difference.

      “one of Quillette’s favorite topics: how “black people are responsible for their own poverty and crime.””
      Since the articles in Quillette on African-American issues tend to be written by African-Americans that seems an unlikely position for them to take. That contemporary white racism has limited explanatory power in current social dynamics is the normal theme. In other words, things are more complex and nuanced than the rather knee jerk “everything is domination” analyses would suggest.

      As for the insidiousness of oppression, spare us. That is classic incurious simplification. Anyone who looks at contemporary Western societies and sees mainly structures of oppression has so little historical sense as to be bereft of any basis for sensible judgement. I recommend more historical curiousity.

  33. Resident Heretic says

    A story…

    In my first seminar in graduate school in a program suffused with critical theory and cultural studies, cultural appropriation was a, if not the, political landmine of my cohort. I learned very quickly to not mention, because I was white, that I had a lifelong love of hip-hop.

    When the week arrived for that precise discussion, the woman of color leading it began by ranting against commercialized hip hop marketed for white appropriators, and contrasted it with “movement” or “underground” hip-hop rooted in the enduring struggle against white supremacy. She passed around a CD of an example of the latter: Blackstar.

    When the disc arrived to me, I quietly tried to pass it to the next person. Being one of the few whites in the program, and forever suspected of being a conservative fraud who couldn’t recognize her privilege, the choice proved fatal.

    The presenter stopped mid-sentence: “[My name], do YOU have a PROBLEM?” I took a deep breath and, as calmly as possible, replied, “No.” She leaped to the pre-determined conclusion: “You can’t even bother to LOOK at that CD?”

    I hesitate and decide to go with the truth:

    “I own that CD.”

    Silence. The seminar progressed, with few people daring to so much as look in my direction. But the conversation continued, with all speakers in agreement: this music does not belong to whites.

    I finally decided to “speak my truth.” I said that experiencing art is much like falling in love, and that I don’t know anyone who can control their reactions to either. And, yes, we can spend our time browbeating people to try to shame them into not loving what they love. But, and this is pretty much exactly what I said: “No matter where I am, or what I’m doing, if I hear The Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ I am going to dance.”

    So I very much appreciate this notion of the “mood” of this ceaseless overturning of linguistic rocks. I knew I didn’t belong, again and again and again, not because I didn’t care about social justice, or because I didn’t “confront my white privilege,” but because there was such spite and ungraciousness and absolutism undergirding all of these conversations.

    That happened more than a decade ago. I’ve taught my young daughter that, whatever we’re doing in the house, we stop to dance when “Rapper’s Delight” starts to play. That such a simple act of joy is really an act of rebellion is, to my mind, a sign of how far astray the academic left has gone, and why I feel so much relief that I decided to walk away from it.

    • Stephen Harrod Buhner says

      very nicely put, thank you for the story and for your courage and willingness for joy.

    • Paul Ellis says

      I’m sure you know that the loop this song is largely based on – ‘Good Times’ by Chic – was recorded by a bunch of session musicians, several of whom are white? Was your so-called professor aware of this, I wonder?

      I also wonder whether she knows the backstory of how ‘Good Times”s writers, Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards – both black – eventually managed not only to get paid but also credited as co-writers of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, when the Sugar Hill Gang and their producers had originally intended to use that loop without credit or payment? Rogers has documented it all, in several places.

      Exactly who was culturally appropriating from whom, in this instance? Or financially appropriating?

  34. Pingback: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind.

  35. Brad Gillespie says

    It strikes me that any form of collectivism, socialism, fascism or Nazism are all pretty much in the same oppressive, stifling bubble: they want to shut down freedom of thought and action. Nazism is really just national socialism, and hence is a leftist disease, hardly anything to equate with conservative, or more rightwing thought. I think you can take most of the academic claptrap and pitch it in the G-can, as all it does is muddy clear principle. I understand that academics have an overwhelming urge to couch any thought in abstract, close to incomprehensible mush, and it’s difficult to find a clear path of reason that strikes at truth in most of their writings — some of which certainly obvious in comments here. The various collectivist schemes over the centuries have been very bad for people who are actually involved in them, unless they are leaders, or monsters of thought. The only ism that has worked wonders for people is capitalism, period. There isn’t any viable argument against this, unless you are stuck in the collectivist muck.

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